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Earle-Sears calls for Republicans to move on from Trump

A person speaks with the hand slightly raised
Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at a 2021 campaign event. On Thursday, Earle-Sears said she "could not support" a third run by former President Donald Trump. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears said Thursday she “could not support” a third run by former President Donald Trump. Her comments on Fox Business marked the highest profile defection in Virginia after Republicans underperformed expectations in Tuesday’s midterm elections, particularly candidates backed by Trump.

“A true leader understands when it’s time to step off the stage,” the former Marine said. “And the voters have given us that very clear message.”

The GOP lost their majorities in Virginia’s General Assembly while Trump was president, with Democrats relentlessly tying GOP opponents to him. The party hopes to avoid that fate next year, when all 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for grabs. Republicans are aiming to flip a narrow Democratic majority in the state Senate and capture a trifecta of power in Richmond in advance of the next presidential election.

But the party can only achieve those goals if they renounce Trump, according to Del. Tim Anderson (R-Virginia Beach). In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Anderson said another run by Trump would be “the absolute worst thing that can happen to Virginia state politics.” He noted Trump lost Virginia twice and the GOP relinquished its majority in the state legislature while the former president was in office.

“I feel better, I feel unmuzzled,” Anderson said in an interview Thursday. “I feel like I can be proud of being a Republican. I haven't felt that way in a long time.”

Anderson said he was tired of being labeled Trumpian by the media, though he said he voted for Trump twice. Earlier this year, the gun shop owner unsuccessfully sued Barnes and Noble to prevent them from selling books he described as obscene. He also sued former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration last year on behalf of a wedding venue over the state’s COVID-19 crowd restrictions.

While no other Republican lawmakers in Virginia have joined Anderson — who won his seat last year — in his rebuke of Trump, he said the message was resonating in the caucus, “because no one in a million years I think would have expected Tim Anderson to say these things.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has so far not gone that far. He left a Thursday morning event without taking questions from the press. But in an interview with WJLA-TV on Wednesday, Youngkin repeated his line that “the former president's going to do what the former president is going to do.”

State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), vice chair of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, said the specter of a Trump presidency would likely motivate Democratic voters next year.

“I think that if Trump is mounting anything close to a viable presidential campaign, that's got to be something that voters have to be worried about,” Surovell said in an interview. “Because the only way that we're going to be able to stop the things happening at the federal level is to have a strong, democratic and rational, normal presence at the state legislative level.”

Rich Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said Virginia Republicans benefited from Trump’s relative lack of visibility during last year’s statewide races.

“If Trump's campaigning actively and is visible every day and is constantly in the media, that's gonna make it much more difficult for Virginia Republicans trying to win over a state that still remains, I think, very much demographically, and I'd argue even culturally oriented towards the Democrats,” Meagher said.

The state races might also be influenced by Youngkin’s decision of whether to run for president. Richmond political analyst Bob Holsworth said the governor had been on something of a “marketing campaign” ahead of the midterms to boost GOP candidates in other states and get his name out among the grassroots of the party. Virginia voters weren’t likely to punish his party for that, Holsworth said. But a presidential run may be a different story.

“I don't think they elected a governor to go campaign for president,” Holsworth said.